Throughout history, nearly all of the progress we've made toward a more just and peaceful world has started with seeds of discomfort with the status quo, and a growing sense that a better way is possible. That feeling is what gave birth to the bold, audacious visions that fueled our greatest gains over the past century, from child labor laws to the Civil Rights Movement.
Today, there is a growing dissatisfaction in America, and concerns about our economy and our health and safety are among the biggest sources. More and more of us find ourselves sharing the same fears -- even when our daily lives couldn't be more different. The out-of-work veteran coal miner in Pennsylvania knows the anxiety of the 22-year-old debt-laden college grad who can't find a decent job. Just as the Hurricane Katrina survivor knows the agony and loss of the superstorm Sandy victim.
When times are hard, we're often backed into a corner and forced to make tough decisions. And too often, special interest groups take advantage of this. They create false choices, pitting our concerns about the economy and the environment against one another. They'll say that any job -- even a job that will do irreparable harm to our air and water, or fuel climate change-induced super storms -- is a good job.
As the "us" against "them" debates play out in the media, in Congress, and across the country, the sad outcome is that sometimes the people who know our struggles the best seem to be pitted against us.
It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to choose between protecting our kids' health and making a living. We need our leaders to set a new course for America's economy. And it has to start with the will to tackle joblessness and climate change. Just like those who came before us, we have a moral obligation to future generations. We have a duty to protect our air and water, and build new pathways to prosperity. We have a responsibility to expand economic opportunity for all Americans -- especially those who've been left farthest behind.
One of the best ways to shift the odds for struggling families and slash pollution at the same time is by expanding clean energy innovation and infrastructure improvements. By doing so, we can create pathways out of poverty, fight climate change, and get America back on its feet. And we have to act now -- we don't have any time to lose.
Here's what we need to do:
1. Ask our leaders to accelerate America's clean energy and energy efficiency efforts. When it comes to getting Americans working, clean energy is a smart choice -- the sector creates three times as many jobs per dollar invested as fossil fuels. We can create 500,000 good jobs just by transitioning to producing 20 percent of our total power from wind -- an achievable goal. And if we made energy efficiency upgrades to just 40 percent of America's residential and commercial buildings, we would create 625,000 long-term, full-time jobs. Even better, the materials used for upgrades, like sheet metal and insulation, are by and large made in America, so expanding energy efficiency also gives our manufacturing sector a much-needed shot in the arm.
2. Call for investments in infrastructure and community resilience. If we want to jumpstart our economy and restore American leadership, the first thing we need to do is fix our crumbling infrastructure. By modernizing our water and transportation systems using 21st century green technology, we can put Americans to work and make vulnerable communities more resilient in the face of superstorms and other climate change disasters. Fixing our broken stormwater infrastructure alone would create 2 million new jobs -- and safer, healthier, more prosperous communities.
3. Demand an end to handouts and giveaways for polluters. We can't move forward while we're still locked to the dirty energy of the past. We need to stop allowing construction of harmful projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline. And at a time when American families are struggling, it's hard to imagine why we would give handouts to some of the wealthiest and most polluting companies in the world. We can save taxpayers at least $8 billion a year by ending subsidies to oil companies, which consistently rake in record profits while saddling the rest of us with toxic air and water. By demanding that polluters to pay their fair share through a smart tax on carbon pollution, we can save the programs that keep America running -- like schools, emergency services, and important infrastructure. A $20 per ton tax on carbon could raise $1.25 trillion over ten years.
4. Call on state, local, and federal leaders to make sure vulnerable Americans have access to opportunities in the green economy. It's not enough just to speed the transition to a clean energy economy. We need to make sure that more of us have access to the jobs and opportunities that are created. One of the best ways to build a more inclusive economy is through High Road Strategies, which ensure that new green projects employ local and disadvantaged workers. We also need to invest in job training. By preparing more Americans to work in industries like clean power, energy efficiency, and green infrastructure, we support technological innovation and expansion that will help make us a global leader.
And as we end loopholes for polluters and transition to a clean energy economy, we need to make sure workers in industries like coal and oil aren't left behind. These folks have dedicated their lives, and in many cases risked their safety, in their jobs. They must be among the winners in the new economy.
The challenges our country faces have never been more daunting. With nearly 50 million Americans struggling just to get by, it's time to take a different economic route. And the way forward begins with finding common ground and a path that will benefit all of us, not just a few.
We can do it by investing in clean energy innovation, green infrastructure, and community resilience. We can stand up to big polluters -- and stand up for our vulnerable neighbors. Together, we can restore American leadership and create a healthier, brighter, more prosperous future for all of our children and grandchildren.
Follow Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/phaedrael